Pascal, Blaise Pensees (Thoughts), 1660 [excerpts -1000 words] the religious wager [Full text http://www.orst.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/pascal/pensees-a.html]
Let man contemplate the whole of nature in her full and grand majesty, and turn his vision from the low objects which surround him. Let him regard the sun. Let the earth appear to him a point in comparison with the vast circle described by the sun.
him wonder at the fact that this vast circle is itself but a very
finepoint in comparison with that described by the stars in their
revolution round the firmament. Let our imagination pass beyond.
The whole visible cosmos is only an imperceptible atom in the ample
bosom of nature. In vain we extend our conceptions beyond imaginable
spaces; we bring forth but atoms in comparison with the reality
of things. For the universe is an infinite sphere, the centre of
which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.
There is another aspect, equally astonishing. Let him examine the most delicate things he knows. Let a mite be given him, with its minute body and parts incomparably more minute, limbs with their joints, veins in the limbs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours, vapours in the drops. Dividing these last things again, let him exhaust his powers of conception.
will think perhaps that he has arrived at the minutest atom of nature.
I will show him therein a new abyss. I will picture for him the
inconceivable immensity of nature in the compass of this abridged
Mans body, which just before was imperceptible
in the universe, is now a colossus in comparison with the infinitely
small at which it is possible to arrive.
What is man in the midst of these two infinities? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of knowing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up
We sail on a vast expanse of being, ever uncertain, ever drifting. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes forever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses
When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in an eternity before and after, the little space I fill engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me
Not from space must I seek my dignity. I should have no more if I possessed whole worlds. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me as an atom by thought I comprehend the world.
Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. It needs not that the entire universe should arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, should the universe crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the universe has the better of him. The universe knows nothing of this
This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and I see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing which is not matter of doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which revealed a Divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion; if I saw everywhere the signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith. But, seeing too much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied; wherefore I have a hundred times wished that if a God maintains Nature, she should testify to Him unequivocally, and that, if the signs she gives are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether; that she should say everything or nothing, that I might see which cause I ought to follow. Whereas in my present state, ignorant of what I am or of what I ought to do, I know neither my condition nor my duty. My heart inclines wholly to know where is the true good, in order to follow it
is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible
that He should not exist; that the soul should be joined to the
body, and that we should have no soul; that the world should be
created, and that it should not be created, etc.
If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is
[The famous wager]
Let us then examine this point, and say, "God is, or He is not." But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here What will you wager?
Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is
The end of this discourse. -- Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.